Written By: Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RDN,
Last modified: September 21, 2021

Finding the right cancer diet after a mesothelioma diagnosis is important. Without proper nutrition, your body cannot make the most of planned mesothelioma treatments.

The best diets for cancer patients provide adequate nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals.

Eating well helps your body tolerate treatments, rebuild immune function and recover after each medical procedure and round of therapy.

Popular Cancer Diets

  • High Protein
  • Macrobiotic
  • Ketogenic
  • Gerson Therapy
  • Budwig

There are potential risks and benefits with most diets for cancer patients. For example, some of these eating plans may be too restrictive.

When a patient is struggling to meet basic nutrition needs, any diet that eliminates a lot of the foods a person normally eats can worsen the situation and increase treatment complications.

Keep this in mind as you search for the optimal holistic cancer patient diet. Even the best natural cancer or mesothelioma diet can cause more harm than good if it doesn’t provide adequate calories and protein.

High-Protein Cancer Diet

Many experts recommend extra protein for cancer patients. Protein supports lean body mass, which includes your muscles and other important tissues such as red and white blood cells.

Lean body mass is a critical part of how you respond to cancer therapies including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

A high-protein diet includes cancer-fighting foods such as chicken, fish, lean beef, Greek yogurt, beans, lentils, peas, soy foods, eggs and nuts.

Mesothelioma patients following a high-protein plan should eat 0.65 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. For example, if you weigh 185 pounds, you will aim to consume 120 to 139 grams of protein daily.

Dietary protein can preserve lean body mass during mesothelioma treatment. Lean body mass, in turn, supports your cancer therapy goals.

Downsides of the High-Protein Diet

There are very few downsides to the high-protein diet for cancer patients. In fact, international cancer nutrition guidelines recommend all people with cancer eat more protein.

Cancer dietitians who work with patients often focus on protein as the top nutritional priority.

Still, there are times when you should balance your protein needs with other health concerns and dietary goals.

  • Kidney and liver health. If you have kidney or liver disease, you may need to limit dietary protein. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how best to balance kidney and liver health with your body’s increased protein needs during mesothelioma treatment.
  • Non-protein calories. Focusing exclusively on protein limits important carbohydrates and fats. Eat healthy, high-calorie carbohydrates and fats, such as sweet potatoes, berries, whole grains, avocados, nuts and olive oil. This supports protein’s tissue-building qualities.
  • Timing of protein. Your body absorbs protein best when it is spread throughout the day. Aim for 15 to 20 grams of protein with snacks and 30 grams with meals. Many people benefit from more protein earlier in the day, with breakfast and lunch.
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Macrobiotic Holistic Diet for Cancer Patients

According to the nonprofit Macrobiotic Association of Great Britain, this natural cancer diet has origins in Asia and dates back many centuries.

A 2018 Oncology (Williston Park) review paper describes the macrobiotic diet by weight as:
  • 40% to 60% whole grains
  • 20% to 30% vegetables, including sea vegetables
  • 5% to 10% legumes, including beans, lentils and soy foods
  • Small amounts of fruit, fish, seeds and nuts

The diet meets nearly all dietary guidelines promoted by the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Case studies suggest the macrobiotic diet can improve health in cancer patients, but there are no controlled clinical trials.

The macrobiotic diet meets or exceeds most U.S. dietary recommendations and provides more fiber than a typical American diet. It provides the Recommended Dietary Allowance for many vitamins and minerals.

Downsides of the Macrobiotic Diet

While the macrobiotic diet for cancer patients offers some positives, it does not provide adequate amounts of protein, vitamins D and B12 and calcium for a person battling mesothelioma.

Cancer-fighting vitamins and protein are important. Cancer treatment side effects may be more severe if you’re deficient in these important nutrients.

Still, the diet can work for a mesothelioma patient, if it is modified to include more protein and healthy fats and fewer carbohydrates. High-protein foods also provide more vitamin D, vitamin B12 and calcium.

The following steps can make the macrobiotic plan a better fit for mesothelioma patients:

  • Cut the whole grains in a standard macrobiotic diet by half.
  • Replace the grains with high-protein items such as fish, chicken and Greek yogurt.
  • Focus on more fruit, such as berries and cherries, and fewer low-calorie vegetables.
  • Add healthy high-fat foods including nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil.

The Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet, often referred to as the “keto diet,” is a very high-fat, low-protein, extremely low-carbohydrate eating plan.

The classic keto diet is composed of:
  • 80% to 90% fat
  • 8% to 15% protein
  • Remaining calories from carbohydrates

When followed correctly, the keto diet forces the body to burn fat, which creates ketones. The ketones are used for energy, resulting in a metabolic condition called ketosis.

One theory behind why the cancer keto diet is a good choice: Cancer cells only use glucose for fuel.

The body creates glucose from dietary sugar and carbohydrates, and some keto diet followers believe strictly limiting them can prevent cancer from growing and spreading.

Some data shows a ketogenic diet lessens treatment side effects for certain cancers such as brain tumors. No studies have shown a ketogenic diet can cure mesothelioma or any other cancer.

A 2019 review paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition did not identify a connection between dietary sugar and cancer risk. Moderate amounts of dietary sugar are not linked to worse outcomes in cancer patients.

Downsides of the Keto Diet

One of the most popular reasons for following a ketogenic diet is weight loss. Most mesothelioma patients struggle to eat enough to maintain weight; any diet that promotes weight loss may cause more harm than benefit.

Normal cells can use ketones for fuel. Some studies suggest ketones promote the growth and spread of cancer cells, too.

The ketogenic diet can be difficult to maintain, especially if you aren’t feeling well. Side effects can include constipation, fatigue and muscle cramps

If you eat a few extra grams of carbohydrate, this can stop ketosis. You may end up with an unbalanced, high-fat diet that isn’t ketogenic.

Still, some people feel a ketogenic diet is worth trying if they have aggressive cancer and researchers are studying the diet for cancer patients.

If you decide to try keto, work with a cancer dietitian who has experience with ketogenic diets. This person can help you design a keto plan that won’t lead to excessive weight loss or malnutrition during cancer treatment.

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Gerson Therapy Cancer Diet

Gerson Therapy is an alternative cancer treatment program and includes a strict dietary plan. It was developed by German doctor Max Gerson in the early 20th century. It is sometimes referred to as the Gerson regimen or method.

The Gerson dietary plan recommends that people with cancer:
  • Drink 20 pounds of crushed and juiced fruit and vegetables daily
  • Consume the juiced and crushed food hourly, for at least 13 hours every day
  • Take multiple dietary supplements daily including potassium, vitamin B12, pancreatic enzymes and “thyroid-support” products

The plan also endorses three to four coffee enemas daily. Gerson therapists claims this can remove toxins from the body and bolster immunity against cancer.

There are no studies to support any of the claims of Gerson practitioners that this therapy can prevent, treat or cure cancer.

Downsides of the Gerson Diet

The Gerson Therapy diet is extremely unbalanced and does not provide adequate protein, dietary fat and other important nutrients. It can be very harmful to people with mesothelioma and other cancers.

People receiving Gerson Therapy have reported loss of appetite, diarrhea, stomach cramps, sweating, fever, dizziness and cold sores.

The enemas can lead to bowel infections, dehydration, dangerously low potassium levels, mineral and electrolyte imbalances, constipation, bowel inflammation and death.

Gerson therapists often recommend against chemotherapy, which is the only cancer treatment proven to extend the lives of people with mesothelioma.

Budwig Diet

German biochemist and pharmacist Joanna Budwig developed a nutrition protocol in the 1950s to treat cancer. She believed processed fats in the diet caused cancer, and her plan was designed to address this.

She called her approach “The Budwig Diet.”

The Budwig Diet emphasizes a mostly vegetarian pattern of eating and includes consuming a blend of flaxseed oil and cottage cheese every day. The program also includes juicing and other whole plant foods.

The diet omits pork, shellfish, animal fats, refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and preservatives, refined flour and grains, hydrogenated oils and fats and all dairy, except cottage cheese.

Downsides of the Budwig Diet

The main challenge of the diet: It can be too restrictive for someone receiving mesothelioma treatment.

The Budwig diet excludes most meat and other protein- and nutrient-dense foods that can be critical for healing and recovery.

While the fruits, vegetables and fresh juices can be healthy for many people, these foods do not contain a lot of calories and can displace more important foods in a mesothelioma patient’s diet.

Components of the plan also may be unpalatable to cancer patients who are experiencing taste changes due to cancer therapies.

Choose the Best Cancer Diet for You

When it comes to nutrition after a mesothelioma diagnosis, the most important goal is to eat in a way that supports your body’s best response to cancer treatment.

For most patients, an eating plan with plenty of protein and enough calories to prevent weight loss will maximize quality of life and optimize efficacy of cancer therapy.

If you’re losing weight, feeling weak and fatigued or don’t much feel like eating, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian. This person can help you come up with creative and effective ways to address barriers and challenges to eating well and fueling your body properly.


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